Paying it rough as a childcare worker.

It’s said that one of the best things about other people’s kids is you can give them back when things turn sour. But not for Heather, she has to grin and bear the nappies, the screaming and the terrible two’s. Why? Because she is a childcare worker.


Heather is the type of person, upon first meeting, you know you can’t get away with anything. No matter who you are and regardless if someone has the toy you want, nothing seems to faze her. When it comes to her kids that is. But working in an industry that demands so much, is highly regulated and pays very little, Heather who has been a childcare worker for nearly a decade sometimes second guesses herself.


“it’s not worth the money. It’s not. I’ve had days where I’ve gone, I could go and work for a supermarket and make more money.”


But why do you stay? Why does anyone stay?


“You don’t stay in the industry for the money. Many stay because they love the children.”


In an industry that is predominantly female, its little wonder many here battle the wages war. When speaking to the Guardian about the issue regarding pay in the industry, United Voice’s national secretary, Jo-anne Schofield called it a “national disgrace”.


“Educators are among the lowest paid professionals in Australia for one simple reason. This workforce is 95% female and their profession is shamefully underpaid,” Schofield said.


It has a ripple effect, low wages that is. When speaking on Lateline earlier this month co-convenor of the Work and Family Policy Roundtable Elizabeth Hill said no matter how much an individual may enjoy working with children the struggle is helping workers make a career out of the industry.


“Centres are finding it really difficult not being able to support individual workers who are fabulous at their job in a career path. So the churn factor that low wages has is a really significant issue in the industry,” Hill said.


Even after a bachelor degree your still only looking at taking home a thousand dollars a fortnight. Even after finishing a diploma and receiving any and all qualifications you’ll be lucky to peak above two thousand. The industry definitely is not for the faint hearted and money driven millennials.


“Most places can’t put you on as an unqualified trainee anymore because you can’t work unqualified. And they won’t put you onto a traineeship until you’ve been working for them for three months,” Heather explains.

Even trying to get a traineeship is still hard as most centres look for those already qualified. Their reasoning, National Quality Framework.


Established in 2012, the aim of the National Quality Framework was to implement a standard across the country when it comes to caring and educating young children. Through the use of what are deemed seven key areas, centres and families can understand and make affect decisions surrounding childcare.


One aspect of the framework that was remodelled was ratios, that being the number of workers to children. In Victoria, and much of the country, the ratio for newborns to 24 months is one to four. Then, according to the website, it jumps to 36 months to pre-school age, with the ratio one to eleven. When looking at the numbers it doesn’t seem all that bad but when putting it into reality Heather explains it’s a lot harder than it looks. And she doesn’t mince words.


“I think the ratios crap,” she says.


“The ratio for a baby should be different to a two to three-year-old.”




“When you’re trying to feed four babies at once because they’re all hungry and you’re by yourself because technically that’s ratio, its physically impossible. Trust me I’ve tried. You literally have to give a five-month old baby their bottle and hope they learn to hold it themselves.”


When you put this into context with a remark Schofield said to the Guardian that educators “literally shape the future, one child at a time” the pressure to do the best you can, seems all the more important. But this isn’t the opinion of many.


“Some teachers who’ve never worked in a day care think we’re babysitters.” She has a look of contempt in her eyes.


Looking back, you can’t really see or remember what it is you learned while in childcare, if you can that is. Apart from the achievement of being able to colour between the lines it’s difficult to understand what it is that workers do, or teach, to young children.


“They’re learning how to negotiate, they’re learning how to share, they’re learning how to be friends. They’re learning how to interact with one another,” explains Heather.


When speaking on the issue to the Guardian, Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman once said, “Like it or not, the most important mental and behavioural patterns, once established, are difficult to change once children enter school.” A comment Heather agrees with strongly but has found it harder to accomplish because parents aren’t always on the same page.


It’s another pressure on top of low wages and strict regulations, the ability to help children develop the fundamental emotional and social aspects of their lives.


We are talking in the only quiet room at her parent’s house. With all the red tape and notifications to parents it was easier this way than at the centre she works for. Even with advanced notice it still would have taken weeks for approval to be made. Outside the closed door you can hear her nieces and nephews running back and forth, screaming and carrying on. Blocks are pulled out and it keeps them entertained for a while longer until the fights start. It’s a slight distraction but it doesn’t seem to faze her, she keeps on talking.


“There’s an odd generation with how parents are parenting. So more children now just get whatever they want, whenever they want. Get to rule the roost, essentially. Rather than being parented.”


Retired physician and contributing editor to the City Journal Theodore Dalrymple who asked the question in an article printed in the publication as to why some parents find it hard to say no. Especially when it comes to their screaming two-year-old.


“There is also the belief that to say no is to be cruel, heartless and unloving, while to say yes is kind, caring and affectionate. The evidence for this proposition is obvious: If you say no to an infant, he cries and screams with distress. If you say yes, he smiles and laughs with pleasure.”


Heather has seen this all too often and explains many occasions where, after telling a parent their child hit another in the face, the parent proceeds to defend their little one.


Your child hit another child today.

What did you do?

Took the toy off them.

Alright. Why did you take the toy off my child?

Well, because they hit them to try and get it.

Well they clearly wanted it so you should have just let them have it in the first place.

Well no that’s not how it works.


It’s hard to imagine, looking from the outside in, the extent one goes through on a daily basis in the industry. From low wages, strict regulations that have you asking questions, and parents that believe the whole world does, and should, evolve around their little ray of sunshine. This is of course generally speaking, though when compared to when she started Heather does say there has been a huge change.


Her comments, “We are the most over regulated and under paid industry. Full stop. Full stop.”


So why, why would anyone want to work in this industry.


“You don’t stay in the industry for the money. Many stay because they love the children.”


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